how to choose the right wedding dress — from a wedding photographer’s perspective

One of my absolute favorite parts of a wedding day is photographing the bride getting ready. Slowly but surely, after months and months of trials and fittings, she is transformed into the radiant bride of her (and her fiance’s!) dreams. I’ve watched this rite of passage occur over and over and one thing has become 110% clear to me: What a woman wears dramatically affects how she feels about herself, which in turn directly affects how beautiful she looks in her pictures.

If you want AMAZING wedding pictures that make people gasp and say, “I’ve never seen a more radiant or beautiful bride!”, I’ll tell you exactly how to get them!

It has nothing to do with selecting the trendiest gown.

It has even less to do with how closely you resemble a Victoria’s Secret model. (Phew.)

It’s all about how you feel in the dress.

Like any article of clothing, your wedding dress can make you feel incredible, laugh more easily, put a twinkle in your eye, and empower you to feel like you could take on the world. Or, better yet, marry the man of your dreams!

Without even one word uttered, I immediately know if a bride is uncomfortable with how she looks in her dress. It doesn’t matter if she’s wearing a gown that was pinned millions of times. And it doesn’t matter if her gown looked amazing on all the girls in the Instagram posts that flooded her feed. She could be wearing the “IT” gown of the year … but if she doesn’t feel amazing in that dress, I can tell. And so can my camera.

Why am I writing an entire article about something that seems so obvious? As a wedding photographer, I want you to LOVE your pictures. It’s hard to love pictures of yourself if all you see when you look at them is that problem area glaring back at you. Plus, it’s hard to relax and enjoy the day if you’re worried about the photographer catching you from a bad angle. Here’s the reality: Relaxed brides ALWAYS get beautiful pictures. Period. So in order to feel relaxed and beautiful in your dress, here are a few suggestions that I hope will set you on the path towards drop-dead gorgeous wedding pictures.

  1. Choose your dress early on in the planning process — maybe even first. This is most important if you know that you struggle with self-esteem issues or often don’t like how you look in pictures. Once you’ve got THE gown that makes you feel like a million bucks, the rest of your wedding can fall into place. If you are uncomfortable with your calves, for example, don’t buy a tea-length dress to coordinate with the afternoon garden party theme you think would be fun. (Sidenote: if your calves aren’t your best asset but you totally don’t care and you feel awesome in a tea-length dress … well, that’s a WHOOOOOLE other story! Go to it!)
  2. Have someone take pictures of yourself in your gown from every angle before you make your final decision. Even the slimmest girls sometimes deal with bulges over the back of their strapless gown. Be honest with yourself if you see this in your pictures. Does it bother you? If so, this isn’t the dress for you. Keep in mind that you will be photographed from all angles during your wedding day, not just from the front. Will you not like any of the pictures of you and your husband standing at the alter if you have any rolls exposed on your back? If this will bother you, then refer to suggestions three and four!
  3. If you love the look of a strapless gown but aren’t happy with your arms or back, consider adding a beautiful bolero so that you get a little extra coverage. It shouldn’t look like a cover-up. Who wants to wear a cover-up on their wedding day?! Check Etsy for some awesome custom-made boleros, wraps, and other ingenious additions to wedding dresses that can conceal problem areas while truly adding to the look of a gown. And again, I would recommend taking pictures of yourself in the dress and bolero together first to make sure you really feel good about how you look.
  4. Don’t be scared of long sleeves. For every 2,000 strapless gowns, you’ll find one gorgeous gown with sleeves. They’re out there … you just have to look a little harder. Although thanks to celebs like Ivanka Trump, Molly Sims, and Kate Middletown, sleeves are making a come back! If you can’t find a long-sleeve dress that doesn’t scream ’80s (complete with giant shoulder pads), consider working with a wedding dress designer on Etsy who can custom create a dress for you that is PERFECT for your shape and can include the right type of sleeve length for your arms.
  5. Work with a wedding dress consultant who truly has your best interest at heart. A person who genuinely cares about others is easy to spot. If you feel like she’s not really interested in helping you find a gown that looks great on your shape, move on. There’s someone out there who does care and will help you pick a gown that makes you look better than you ever thought possible. Ask around. Your friends will no doubt have recommendations.
  6. Be honest with yourself. If you’re thinking that the mermaid shaped dress will look fabulous on you in 6 months after you’ve dropped 40 pounds of belly fat (which you TOTALLY intend to do), you may be setting yourself up for disaster. It’s wonderful to plan to shape up for a big event like your wedding, but don’t COUNT on it. Sometimes life gets in the way of our best workout and diet plans! Choose a dress that looks gorgeous on you right now … and then if you do drop some weight, you’ll just look even better in it.
  7. Remember your bridesmaids struggle with insecurities, too. I’ve photographed bridal parties where, clearly, people felt awful about how they looked in the dress. The girls weren’t complaining … but it was written all over their faces. One of THE nicest ways to handle that type of situation is to pick a color from a designer and let your girls all pick the dress that works best with their shape. That’s how my best friend did it and I can tell you that all of her bridal party was happy and looked happy in her pictures. This doesn’t work for every wedding, but certainly keeping your bridesmaids’ feelings and body-image concerns in mind will go a long way towards creating an awesome day for you all.

How about you? Do you have any tips to share? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.

Happy shopping!


p.s. AMAZING dress and image from BHLDN. Man, I love their dresses!

Kate Callahan is a portrait and wedding photographer based out of the lovely Hudson Valley area of NY. She also serves clients in NYC, DE, and any pretty place she’s invited to! 

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